[Bengals Season Preview] Previewing Weeks 1-4

A year ago, even in the face of coming away from a 4-11-1 season and dealing with issues such as having a largely untested offensive line and a quarterback whose 2008 season only lasted four games, many of us Bengals fans were feeling some excitement going into the regular season. We had the opportunity to watch our boys on the Emmy-winning HBO show "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals." Things looked to be coming together nicely defensively leading into the second year of Mike Zimmer's "Z"-fense. We didn't know what to expect and many were legitimately concerned with the team's chances for the 2009-2010 season, but there was a little something in the air.

If one were ever to become despondent, we also had this video to watch. This was instant adrenaline for me leading into the 2009-2010 campaign.

Looking back, there was a definite...SOMETHING about the months that led into the 2009 season for the Cincinnati Bengals. They had a great draft. They made some smart, key offseason additions and subtractions that helped the roster become more cohesive. There was going to be something different about "this year."

That was a fact, but one that we didn't realize right away when the Immaculate Deflection happened at the end of Week One. It wasn't until the wins started in Week Two that the excitement some of us had been feeling started to bubble up again, seeming to impact the play on the field the more excited we became.

I say all of that to say this: I feel that excitement once more.  Let's look at the first quarter of the upcoming season.

The first two games of the season will give a good indicator how the season will go for our boys in stripes. Where better to start than Week 1?

Week 1 Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium
Sunday September 12, 1:00 pm

New England 2009 Record: 10-6, 1st place in AFC East
2009 Road Record: 2-6
2009 Home Record: 8-0
Head to Head Against Bengals: 13-8
Over Under: 9.5 games  
Over: -140
Under: +110

Key Acquisitions:  Alge Crumpler, Torry Holt, Damione Lewis, Marques Murrell, Gerard Warren
Key Losses: Chris Baker, Jarvis Green, Chris Hansen, Junior Seau, Shawn Springs, Adalius Thomas, Benjamin Watson

Tampa Bay 2010 Draft Picks: Round 1, Devin McCourtney-CB Rutgers, Round 2, Rob Gronkowski-TE Arizona, Round 2, Jermaine Cunningham-OLB Florida, Round 2, Brandon Spikes-LB Florida, Round 3, Taylor Price-WR Ohio, Round 4, Aaron Hernandez-TE Florida, Round 5, Zoltan Mesko-P Michigan, Round 6, Ted Larsen-OL NC State, Round 7, Thomas Welch-OL Vanderbilt, Round 7, Brandon Deaderick-DE Alabama, Round 7, Kade Weston, DT Georgia, Round 7, Zac Robinson-QB Oklahoma State

Offense (2009)

Bengals

Patriots

Total 309.1 (24th) 397.3 (3rd)
Scoring 19.1  (22nd) 26.7 (6th)
Third Downs 41% (12th) 44% (8th)
Passing 180.6 (26th) 277.2 (3rd)
Passing TDs 21 (16th) 28 (7th)
Rushing 128.5 (9th) 120.1 (12th)
Rushing TDs 9 (t-22nd) 19 (t-6th)
Sacks Allowed 29 (9th) 18 (3rd)
20-yard Passes 36 (26th) 43 (t-15th)
Defense (2009)

Bengals

Patriots

Total 301.4  (4th) 320.2 (11th)
Scoring 18.2 (6th) 17.8 (5th)
3rd Downs Allowed 39% (16th) 37% (12th)
Passing 203.1 (6th) 209.7 (12th)
Passing TDs 18 (8th) 25 (20th)
Rushing 98.3 (7th) 110.5 (13th)
Rushing TDs 12 (14th) 6 (3rd)
Sacks 34 (16th) 31 (t-23rd)
QB Rating 73.6 (7th) 81.7 (13th)
20-Yard Passes Allowed 41 (9th) 42 (12th)
Interceptions 19 (t-9th) 18 (t-11th

The Game: New England had another strong season last year, finishing with the same record as the Bengals but showing stronger in nearly every category. One of their most telling stats is their 8-0 home record in 2009. Foxborough has always been and remains a tough place for any team not hailing from New England to win a football game. Tom Brady remains one of the top quarterbacks in the game and will have his favorite outlet back on the field in slot receiver Wes Welker in addition to perennial deep threat Randy Moss. The good thing for Bengals fans is that the Bengals defense should only be stronger after good additions like Carlos Dunlap and Brandon Ghee in the offseason, and with a healthy Roy Williams the secondary will be at least as good as it was last year. It's exciting not to have to worry about potent offenses because you cheer for the #4 defense in the NFL, isn't it?

Looking at this game objectively, this is going to be a rough way to start the season. It may come down to Carson Palmer versus Tom Brady, before it's all said and done. Having to face the Patriots' defense which is a great example of a good defense with few recognizeable names will be a great test for the Bengals' revamped offense. Hopefully we'll have Cedric Benson available in Week One to balance the offense and draw the eight man into the box, opening up the outsides for some man coverage for Ochocinco and Bryant.

If the Bengals are able to maintain a balanced and productive offense they have a chance to win this one, because there isn't an offense in the NFL that scares me when the Bengals are taking their third-year Zfense onto the field. Whether Bratkowski chooses to use the run game to open the passing game or vice versa, a one-dimensional offense is likely to result in a disappointing Week One for us Bengals fans. Here's hoping the season will start off with a bang and the Bengals will set the tone by handing the Patriots their first home loss since the 2009 preseason.

Week 2: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens
Paul Brown Stadium

Sunday September 19, 1:00 pm

2009 Baltimore Record: 9-7
Road Record: 6-2
Home Record: 3-5
Head to Head Against Bengals: 15-11
Over Under: 10 Games 

Key Acquisitions: Anquan Boldin, Marc Bulger, Shayne Graham, Ken Hamlin, Cory Redding, Donte' Stallworth
Key Losses: Justin Bannan, Dwan Edwards, L.J. Smith, Adam Terry, Kelley Washington

Atlanta 2010 NFL Draft Picks: Round 2, Sergio Kindle-OLB Texas, Round 2, Terrence Cody-DT Alabama, Round 3, Ed Dickson-TE Oregon, Round 4, Dennis Pitta-TE BYU, Round 5, David Reed-WR Utah, Round 5, Arthur Jones-DT Syracuse, Round 6, Ramon Harewood-OT Morehouse

Offense (2009)

Bengals

Ravens

Total

309.1 (24th)

351.2 (13th)

Scoring

19.1  (22nd)

24.4 (9th)

Third Downs

41% (12th)

42% (t-11th)

Passing

180.6 (26th)

213.7 (18th)

Passing TDs

21 (t-16th)

21 (t-16th)

Rushing

128.5 (9th)

137.5 (5th)

Rushing TDs

9 (t-22nd)

22 (1st)

Sacks Allowed

29 (9th)

36 (20th)

20-yard Passes

36 (26th)

44 (t-13th)

Defense (2009)

Bengals

Ravens

Total

301.4  (4th)

300.5 (3rd)

Scoring

18.2 (6th)

16.3 (3rd)

3rd Downs Allowed

39% (16th)

37 (11th)

Passing

203.1 (6th)

207.2 (t-8th)

Passing TDs

18 (8th)

17 (7th)

Rushing

98.3 (7th)

93.2 (5th)

Rushing TDs

12 (14th)

8 (6th)

Sacks

34 (16th)

32 (t-18th)

QB Rating

73.6 (7th)

71.9 (6th)

20-Yard Passes Allowed

41 (9th)

48 (t-19th

Interceptions

19 (t-9th)

22 (t-5th)

The Game: The Baltimore Ravens seem to have already been declared the AFC North champions for the 2010-2011 NFL campaign, haven't they? With every publication out there seemingly disregarding the Bengals having even the minutest chance to repeat their success within their division from a year ago, expect a very motivated Bengals team to make their 2010 Paul Brown Stadium debut in Week 2.

Looking at the stats, these are two incredibly well-matched football teams.  Offensively the Ravens have the better statistics from a year ago, unsurprisingly. Defensively they have the edge as well, but the difference between the Ravens' defensive rankings and the Bengals' rankings are miniscule at best. These are two football teams cut from the same mold, and the only real difference since 2003 has been Carson Palmer. Palmer's record against the Baltimore Ravens in his career is 8-3 after the Bengals swept the Ravens last year.

Besides all that, don't you think the Bengals might just be the teensiest bit motivated as they open their home games against the team they beat twice last year and to which they have been deemed inferior leading into this season just a few short months later? Got to like the good guys' chances in this one.

Week 3 - Cincinnati Bengals at Carolina Panthers
Bank of America Stadium
Sunday September 26, 1:00 pm

2009 Carolina Record: 8-8
Road Record: 3-5
Home Record: 5-3
Head to Head Against Bengals: 2-1
Over Under: 7.5 Games

Key Acquisitions: Brandon LaFell, Eric Norwood, Jimmy Clausen
Key Losses: Jake Delhomme, Julius Peppers, Chris Harris

Atlanta 2010 NFL Draft Picks: Round 2, Jimmy Clausen-QB Notre Dame, Round 3, Brandon LaFell-WR LSU, Round 3, Armanti Edwards-WR Appalachian State, Round 4, Eric Norwood-DE South Carolina, Round 6, Greg Hardy-DE Mississippi, Round 6, David Gettis-WR Baylor, Round 6, Jordan Pugh-DB Texas A&M, Round 6, Tony Pike-QB Cincinnati, Round 7, R.J. Stanford--DB Utah, Round 7, Robert McClain-DB Conneticut

Offense (2009)

Bengals

Panthers

Total

309.1 (24th)

331.1 (19th)

Scoring

19.1  (22nd)

19.7 (21st)

Third Downs

41% (12th)

37% (19th)

Passing

180.6 (26th)

174.9 (27th)

Passing TDs

21 (16th)

16 (24th

Rushing

128.5 (9th)

156.1 (3rd)

Rushing TDs

9 (t-22nd)

18 (10th)

Sacks Allowed

29 (9th)

33 (13th)

20-yard Passes

36 (26th)

39 (t-21st)

Defense (2009)

Bengals

Panthers

Total

301.4  (4th)

315 (8th)

Scoring

18.2 (6th)

19.2 (9th)

3rd Downs Allowed

39% (16th)

36% (7th)

Passing

203.1 (6th)

191.0 (4th)

Passing TDs

18 (8th)

14 (t-2nd)

Rushing

98.3 (7th)

124.8 (22nd)

Rushing TDs

12 (14th)

15 (t-19th)

Sacks

34 (16th)

31 (t-23rd)

QB Rating

73.6 (7th)

71.7 (5th)

20-Yard Passes Allowed

41 (9th)

37 (6th)

Interceptions

19 (t-9th)

22 (5th)

The Game: I must admit, I was a little suprised looking at the Panthers' team stats from last season. For an 8-8 team their numbers are quite good, ranking ahead of both the Bengals and even the Ravens in some defensive categories. That said, relying on a rookie quarterback (be it our very own Tony Pike or Jimmy Clausen) and not having Julius Peppers getting after the quarterback will likely hurt the Panthers in 2010.

I don't think Steve Smith scares people nearly as much as he did in years past, and with a rookie under center the offense is likely to have some growing pains. Especially in the beginning part of the season. All signs point to the Bengals going to Bank of America Stadium and notching another one in the "W" column.  Palmer will have to be cognizant of a team that pulled in twenty-two interceptions last year and everyone will have to keep an eye on Jon Beason in the middle of the Panthers' defense, but this one should be the easiest game to this point in the young season. If the Bengals manage to start 0-2, I'm confident that by the end of week 3 they will at least have one mark in the "W" column.

Week 4 - Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns Stadium
Sunday October 3, 1:00 pm

2009 Cleveland Record: 5-11
Road Record: 2-6
Home Record: 3-5
Head to Head Against Bengals: 35-36
Over Under: 5.5 games

Key Acquisitions: Sheldon Brown, Jake Delhomme, Scott Fujita, Chris Gocong, Peyton Hills, Tony Pashos, Alex Smith, Seneca Wallace, Benjamin Watson
Key Losses: Derek Anderson, Hank Fraley, Mike Furrey, Michael Gaines, Rex Hadnot, Alex Hall, Steve Heiden, Jamal Lewis, Brodney Pool, Hank Poteat, Brady Quinn, Donte' Stallworth, Corey Williams, Kamerion Wimbley

Cleveland 2010 NFL Draft Picks: Round 1, Joe Haden-CB Florida, Round 2, T.J. Ward-S Oregon, Round 3, Colt McCoy-QB Texas, Round 3, Shawn Lauvao- G Arizona State, Round 5, Larry Asante-S Nebraska, Round 6, Carlton Mitchell-WR S Florida, Round 6, Clifton Geathers-DE South Carolina

Offense (2009)

Bengals

Browns

Total 309.1 (24th) 260.2 (32nd)
Scoring 19.1  (22nd) 15.3 (29th)
Third Downs 41% (12th) 33% (26th)
Passing 180.6 (26th) 129.8 (32nd)
Passing TDs 21 (16th) 11 (31st)
Rushing 128.5 (9th) 130.4 (8th)
Rushing TDs 9 (t-22nd) 10 (t-20th)
Sacks Allowed 29 (9th) 30 (10th)
20-yard Passes 36 (26th) 25 (32nd)
Defense (2009)

Bengals

Browns

Total 301.4  (4th) 389.3 (31st)
Scoring 18.2 (6th) 23.4 (t-21st)
3rd Downs Allowed 39% (16th) 39% (16th)
Passing 203.1 (6th) 244.7 (29th)
Passing TDs 18 (8th) 22 (t-14th)
Rushing 98.3 (7th) 144.6 (28th)
Rushing TDs 12 (14th) 15 (19th)
Sacks 34 (16th) 40 (t-8th)
QB Rating 73.6 (7th) 90.6 (24th)
20-Yard Passes Allowed 41 (9th) 62 (32nd)
Interceptions 19 (t-9th) 10 (29th)

The Game: Looking at these stats, it's pretty easy to assume the Bengals will notch another W while visiting Cleveland in Week 4. However, any of you who have followed our Bengals for a long period of time know that this week's game will be no walk in the park. For some reason, even if the Browns are having a putrid year this matchup always seems to yield interesting results.  

That said, there is no forseeable reason why the Bengals should lose this week unless Jake Delhomme remembers how he used to play the quarterback position about four years ago. The Bengals outmatch the Browns at every position in 2010 and should have no problem gaining a win at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

~

The Bengals' schedule in 2010 is the fourth-hardest schedule in the entire NFL, and the first quarter of the season shows that pattern immediately with tough games in weeks one and two and a game that could be harder than anticipated in week three. If the Bengals can come out of the first four weeks with a 2-2 or 3-1 record it will go a long way toward keeping a playoff-qualifying record through the rest of the season.

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